Interviewing an Entrepreneur

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Contributed by Vanessa Baehr (12/17/2015)

What training or education did you have in this line of work?
Jesse went to Waldorf School for the 5th-12th grades. This was his first introduction to biodynamic agriculture. Jesse attended Babson College to study entrepreneurship and marketing. He directed a marketing team at Brooklyn Boulders and was offered a golden opportunity towards success with a good team, creative freedom, financial gains, and room for growth. This is where he began to reassess how to implement his values, and this evaluation drove him to work with nature. All of his fondest memories had to do with nature, and he connected that with agriculture. This was in 2012. He was 25 years old. Jesse then went to study and work at the Pfeiffer Center (Chestnut Ridge, NY), Turtle Tree Seed (Copake, NY), and Stone Barns (Tarrytown, NY).

How did VIDA farm begin?
Jesse is leasing land and thinks farmers should entertain various lease structures before buying land outright. He works part time for the landowners, who have a farm operation raising Animal Welfare Approved chickens and pigs, as well as making delicious prepared food and baked goods.

Jesse has not yet applied for any grants. His approach is resourcefulness and cuts inputs wherever possible, and the farm system’s holistic simplicity lends itself to this. Jesse took out a small loan of $15,000 in April 2015 for infrastructure, tools, supplies, and working capital. He has no employees and pays himself $500 a month from the working capital. He has not yet exhausted his loan, which is pretty impressive. He leases 2.5 acres, out of it 1.5 is in permanent cover crop and dryland cultivation. The remaining acre was sown and will continue in a natural style, half an acre with 33 varieties of wildflowers, a quarter with nettle and another quarter with echinacea.

Jesse spent the first year experimenting with and getting to know the land, what grew best with his very particular system. His most prolific vegetable crops were tomatoes, kale, and lettuce. He sells his produce directly to restaurants and groceries, and through the on-site farm store. He will save seeds from the crops to enhance resilience year to year, and also to sell as another revenue stream.

What are some things you love about your job?

  • Being outside in nature.
  • Making his own decisions.
  • Applying his skills directly.
  • Learning his own operation.
  • He feels liberated to question modern agriculture and to be able to do it another way in aims to better the planet.

What are some things you dislike about your job?
The generally misguided value system of society does not support the growing of food for people in a way that honors the earth or the worker. Farmers are feeding the population but do not get financially compensated fairly for their long hours of hard work for a vital cause. The work itself is nourishing and rewarding though challenging, but the reality of farm finances is that it’s a huge systemic struggle for farmers of today.

Would you recommend this occupation to others?
Yes, it is highly recommended as meaningful work. Also, no, as it is hard work and you will most likely struggle in many ways. This challenge can motivate or dominate – as long as you keep your goals and values in focus it can push you to work harder and be smart. Remember to breathe and evolve.

Vanessa’s personal reflections of this interview:
I do not know Jesse well, only met him a handful of times randomly, but I always got the sense that he was happy and confident in his work. He talks about it passionately and you can tell it’s what he thinks about most. I think it’s helpful that he went to college for marketing and business as this is a good foundation for a savvy farmer. He is certainly an entrepreneur and takes the challenge well. I’m impressed by his ability to manage his finances so well by keeping costs low. I believe this is in due part to his operation scale, which makes perfect sense for his purposes. Keeping it small and simple still does make an impact.

I’m happy to hear his story of giving up the golden job for something holistic and nourishing like working with land and growing food. I identify with this value system deeply. I have some financial fears and I don’t want to struggle to make ends meet anymore. I’ve done it for a long time and I just want a little more security now that I have a child and am not with his father. On the other hand I believe my ultimate dream of having a homestead is more valuable security than money in the bank, but I need the money initially to make that a reality.

I appreciate Jesse for not shying away from the financial plan and taking it head on and being smart about it. He lives within modest means. Resourcefulness is a great challenge especially in this modern day and age, and once you realize you can relinquish yourself of material and commercial influence then you are free. You can reuse, fix, or source cleverly and reduce many costs. Eliminate the idea of waste. It’s about challenging the money system and finding true freedom within that.

I am interested in wildflowers and seed saving on a small scale and interviewed Jesse to see how I might apply that to a homestead practice someday, perhaps as some side income. I have no ambitions of becoming a farmer but consider myself an avid gardener. I am less focused on production pressure and the rapid pace. I want to stop and smell the flowers and I.D. some weeds, and take it in along the way.

This interview was helpful in that it was good to hear a young person with solid values I relate to making it work for himself in a business that works with and for the earth. He was bothered by the system but also knew how to work it to his advantage without exploiting. He appears to me successful and happy in his work. Gives me hope to hear stories like this.


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